Dear Indian-Americans, Can We Get Over the Spelling Bee? It’s 2019, We Have Autocorrect

Humour

Dear Indian-Americans, Can We Get Over the Spelling Bee? It’s 2019, We Have Autocorrect

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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n Indian-origin American kid winning accolades at a Spelling Bee is as commonplace as a BJP neta extolling gobar as the new cure for all diseases, and then running off to the US for private treatment. So this year, after a record number of children (including six of Indian-origin) were co-crowned champions in the US of Scripps National Spelling Bee, it got the same reaction as Sharma ji ka ladka topping the class in school. We know we should be happy for them, but honestly who has the energy anymore.

The “Spelling Bee” is the perfect platform for Indian-American parents – the OG ABCDs – to wear the brilliance of their prodigy-in-making as a badge of honour. It’s an overseas version of the “Beta, uncle ko gana sunao” tradition. Along with having ketchup with everything from fries to pasta, this one-track obsession with having their children put letters in the correct order to spell the most obscure words unites desi parents all parts of the world.

The truth is, you can take an Indian parent out of India, but you can never take their Indianness – their all-encompassing melodrama – away. No amount of foreign education or professional success is enough to stop them from hounding their children. So it’s all work and no play for Indian kids abroad who have been convinced that winning the spelling bee is like winning a sport. Dear desi parents, just because the spelling bee airs on ESPN, and is covered by a couple of sports journalists, it’s really not a sport. Like billiards.

While their American peers are learning soccer, Indian children are learning how to spell schwarmerei, smaragdine, esquamulose, and other words that sound like whole sentences. English is their religion, the dictionary is their holy book, and Shashi Tharoor is their messiah. These kids have only one mantra: Rote learn, rote learn, rote learn. Any free time is considered sacrilege, a path to damnation.

The English ruled us for 200 years. The least we can do is dominate the Spelling Bee for the next 20 years.

Desi parents, meanwhile, spend all their resources on nudging their children toward “greatness”. It’s a full-proof retirement plan… as well as a secret revenge mission, one that no one seems to be acknowledging. The English ruled us for 200 years. The least we can do is dominate the Spelling Bee for the next 20 years.

Well, we’re half-way there at least. South-Asian Americans have had an unbroken winning streak since 2008. We’re better at spelling than we are at even kabaddi or cricket. Hurrah! Or should we say Huzzah, an exclamation befitting our spelling champions.

I get it, Spelling Bees are super competitive and require years of rigorous training, and discipline from both the kids and their guardians. (Still not a sport!) All this, just so your teenage son can spell words that haven’t even made it to the Oxford dictionary yet – just tried looking up this year’s word “auftaktigkeit” and found no matches – and grow up to be an insufferable twat.

Plus, this plan of taking over the world by mugging up words that only Tharoor uses, isn’t exactly working out. The rest of the world has moved on to speaking its own language. The internet is currently in the process of doing to English, what us Indians did to Chinese food – butchering it. Today “bro” is a term of endearment, “as fuck” is used as a superlative, and good times are described as, “lit AF”. Nobody cares about punctuation anymore, or whether “there” is different from “their”. The age of predictive text is upon us. Let auto-correct handle it.

It’s more useful to have a talent that allows you to shout opinions at someone on Twitter.

Dear super-motivated desi parents, hate to break it to you, but “exceptional spelling prowess” doesn’t really make you a modern-day rockstar. It’s more useful to have a talent that allows you to shout opinions at someone on Twitter. As Gen Z kids go on to become “pro selfie artist” or whatever, Indian teens are spending six to 10 hours a day on weekdays and 10 to 12 hours on weekends studying. For what? So they can grow up to become software engineers in a company started by a kid who didn’t waste time learning spellings of words they would never actually have to use.

If Indian kids continue to be spelling-obsessed, here’s what the future will look like. When Spelling Suresh texts his crush if she’d like to have cioppino for lunch followed by an Ingberlach, expect her to text back with a ttyl or even worse ghost him. What’s ghosting you ask? Well, you’d know if you got off the Oxford Dictionary and tried the Urban Dictionary instead. Because on the road to greatness, no one’s going to stop you and ask you to spell “omphalopsychite”.

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